I have a phobia of the dentist. It started off when I was about 12 years old and had to have a scan. From then on the fear doubled, tripled to now a full blown phobia. Some people don’t look forward to the dentist, others it doesn’t bother them. For me, seeing a dentist gives me heart palpitations, shakes, and extreme anxiety. Although most dental procedures aren’t painful, the idea of a dentist going near me or using tools to examine my mouth freak me out. I’ll admit I have done anything in the past to avoid a dental appointment, naughty I know. I’ve thought up sicknesses, faked transport delays or unexpected visits from the gasman, electrician, landlord etc, anything to avoid going and sitting in that chair.
People can fear a specific activity, object or situation. People with dental phobia often put off routine care for years or even decades. To avoid it, they’ll put up with gum infections (periodontal disease), pain, or even broken and unsightly teeth. Dental anxiety and phobia are extremely common. It has been estimated that 9% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety and fear. That’s about 30 million to 40 million people. In a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason.
A phobia is an intense, unreasonable fear. But it appears I’m not alone. According to the NHS website, Karen Coates, a dental adviser at the British Dental Health Foundation, says the organisation’s dental helpline receives many calls about fear and phobia.
Karen says: “People who are scared of the dentist often call us for help because they’re at the end of their tether. Their teeth don’t look nice any more or they’re in a lot of pain with toothache, and they want to make the first step to seeing a dentist and getting their teeth sorted out.
“Some people have such bad dental phobia that they haven’t seen a dentist for years. It’s common for us to hear from someone in their twenties or thirties or even older who hasn’t been to the dentist since childhood. Recently, a 16-year-old girl whose mother has a dental phobia called the helpline. The mother had never taken the daughter to the dentist – and now the girl desperately wanted to have a dental check-up.”
I’ve been dragged plenty of times kicking and screaming by family members concerned for my dental health throughout my twenties to the dentist both private and through the NHS. My phobia without a doubt has come from my teenage years when I had braces and used to weekly go to the orthodontist. She wasn’t a very pleasant dentist, she made me feel very uncomfortable and since then I hate the dentist.
Now that I am a mother, I know the importance of oral hygiene. Since I moved to Kent last year, trying to register with a dentist was a nightmare. It’s not as simple as London where you stroll in one day, receive the form, fill it in and walk out with a dentist appointment. Down here it is as tricky as getting as registering to a doctor. I moved here in June 2016, I was on a waiting list to become registered to a clinic from July 2016 and didn’t get a call to register until January this year. I registered both Sam and I and whilst Emily is still small, hopefully it won’t be too difficult registering her to our practice on Newington Road. Whilst I deal with some oral health issues of my own, I also visit a dentist in Canterbury who, thankfully is so nice. She has a really calming voice, personality and presence, none of that overpowering crap that most dentists give off. My last visit a few weeks ago meant that I had to bring Emily with me and funnily enough, having Emily as my distraction meant I was less of a wreck getting into the chair, and there was no panicking. I mean I couldn’t, not in the eyes of Emily. Emily found the whole thing mildly enjoyable, well for the first 40 minutes then she had enough of the glove balloons my dentist blew up for her and all the intruments she could play with. She did well for her first visit. She even had her 4 teeth looked at. You’re advised to take your child with you when you go to the dentist to get them used to the idea of the dentist.
As 2 more teeth are starting to cut through, I want to make sure Emily’s oral hygiene is in tip top shape and that she never feels too scared to go to the dentist. Oral hygiene is super important and if not looked after properly can cost a fortune to fix. Whilst my phobia is still here, it will be a while if not longer before I’ll ever feel 100% comfortable in a dentists chair. In the meantime though I’ll make sure her oral health is top notch and take her to the dentist with me when I can.
To find a dentist, you can use the NHS services search, ask at your local clinic, or contact NHS England on 0300 311 22 3, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.